So, the last couple of weeks have been interesting. I am part of an online support group for people suffering with bipolar disorder, or for the loved ones of those suffering with bipolar disorder. http://www.bipolardisorderconnect.com – most find it via a free app from AllianceHealth. There are other great communities there as well for a number of conditions. Anyway, I had made mention about using narrative therapy at one point, and was contacted by somebody through the site whom is writing an article about the use of narrative therapy for people suffering with bipolar disorder. I did a little research on the person who contacted me just to be sure that they were legitimate and we have exchanged a few e-mails. The latest of which, are my rather lengthy answers to her interview questions. I’m to receive a copy of the issue with the article in it.
I was also contacted a couple of days ago from another producer at CNN regarding the use of my photo from my story that I had contributed last fall where I and four other people were featured in a story about people living with depression. I’ll mention here if anything comes of that. Here’s the original post – http://bit.ly/13GauIn. It was featured with a few others in the story run here – http://bit.ly/Qh4H2n. I have to mention that the two producers at CNN that I’ve spoken with were not only professional, but were very kind and compassionate people. That’s a credit to them as people, not just their job titles.
I’m somewhat conflicted about having this blog under the veil of anonymity. I am not ashamed of having had many struggles throughout my life with mental illness. It doesn’t bother me at all to talk about it. In North America, there is still a tremendous amount of stigma revolving around mental illness. There is an almost willful lack of understanding or compassion for those suffering from various maladies of mental health. It also comes with a sense of irony, as some of those who are most judgmental are often people that could likely benefit greatly from seeking help themselves for living within such rigid tunnel-vision. Perhaps I’m wrong, but that has been my observation. I think the thing that bothers me the most about the stigma that surrounds mental illness is the notion that it is a product of some sort of personal flaw or failure. It is almost as if those of us that suffer with mental illness choose to do so. I hear this and the many suggestions, comments or even outright demands to basically just snap out of it. The mere implication that I being a reasonably intelligent and practical individual simply hadn’t thought to just turn that frown upside down, or to just relax after a horrifying nightmare of things that have happened in the past is deeply offensive. To me, if I have taken the time to actually share part of my experience with somebody and have been honest and upfront about it, that the person that I’ve given this insight into my own life to is simply dismissive to my plight, tries to minimize what I feel and basically invalidates me and my experience… If I weren’t in a strong place, I would find that experience to be deeply painful and would reinforce every negative feeling that I’ve ever had about myself. That would be even more reinforced by having been raised in this culture to look at mental illness with such shame, fear and the viewpoint of it being a sign of weakness or defect.
I believe that many of us simply exist in hiding. For many of us that don’t, our very real feelings are often ignored or cast under the broad umbrella of just being “crazy”. I don’t hate the word crazy, but when it’s used to make broad sweeping judgments or in a condescending way, I start to have a problem. Among the mentally ill however, you often find a very compassionate group of people who also lead the double life that most of us are forced to live because of the stigma and willful ignorance of others. Most of us that are struggling to live our lives aren’t quick to judge and we have some humility. If we’ve experienced stigma and lack of understanding or compassion and we’ve managed not to internalize it all, we see the broad spectrum of so many things being gray – not black and white. We also feel guilty – simply for being who we are with our condition(s). We often identify ourselves as our conditions because other people identify us as being our condition once they’re aware of it, and somehow we cease to be a complete person in their eyes. Somehow, we lose the right to have strong feelings about anything. Strong emotions must be our craziness coming out, after all. That just reinforces the feeling of being defective as a human being. I have found my strength, but it took many years of personal growth to realize my own resilience and perseverance in spite of the many challenges that I have faced. I know there are many people who live in silence with their suffering who don’t share the same sense of self that I feel. My heart bleeds knowing this.
I want to advocate for those that have not found their voice. I want to fight for the ones that have spoken up only to be shamed or cast aside by those closest to them because they happen to carry a diagnosis. I don’t have a lot of money, I don’t have a high social status and I don’t have the resources to start a personal crusade. I see those things is being unfortunate, but I see them as challenges – not limitations. I do have my words. I almost feel like I’m coming out if I actually tell others of my diagnosis’s. The diagnosis is just that – a diagnosis. In society though, it’s a label. In some cases it may as well be the mark of the beast. People are quite comfortable living in fear of the unknown, rather than taking ten minutes to at least read the damn Wikipedia article about a certain condition to get a couple paragraphs of information to be more informed than they were before. Willful ignorance in my opinion is far more dangerous to society as a whole than any form of mental illness. Knowledge is only power if you’re actually willing to learn. Ignorance is power too, and one of the dangerous kind. Perpetuating ignorance and raising close-minded children only continues to harm what could otherwise be a far more compassionate and understanding society. We live in an era where literally the collective knowledge of the world throughout the whole of history is available in the palm of our hand. Even if one isn’t fortunate enough to have a smart phone, there are computers everywhere that you could simply open a browser and educate yourself. Libraries are still here too and they are free. Simply asking somebody is free. Being ignorant in this day and age is a *choice*. For whatever reason though, many people choose to live in their bubble with their narrow viewpoints and personal preconceived notions of how things are in the world around them. If there’s anything I’ve learned in this life, is to assume very little if not nothing. I make every effort to try to understand where somebody else is coming from even if I don’t agree with them. Being prejudiced in this day and age astounds me. Have we learned nothing? Hasn’t history taught us anything? It horrifies me that we still fight for equal rights for various groups of people in the face of blatant bigotry from our neighbors and our leaders. Those suffering from mental illness deserve a voice. For anyone wanting to drown out that voice, send them my way. I challenge anyone to try to beat me down verbally with hate, ignorance and prejudice in regards to the mentally ill. I’m still working out how best to focus my energy for advocacy. In my lifetime I have been very fortunate to have received so much love and support from those closest to me and from strangers alike. So many people on so many occasions have plucked me from the very edge of oblivion in my own mind and have shown boundless patience with me while I mended my wounds. Many have walked through fire with me when I was at my darkest points. It’s my turn to do that for others.
My progress since last fall and starting on Lamictal. I started tracking via the app a few weeks into being treated with Lamictal. Each spike up was about 7-10 days after a dosage increase. I was lucky – from what I understand, there’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to treating bipolar disorder in trying to find the right medication and dosage. I’ve been at 400mg now since January. Given the nature of this blog, I should give a frame of reference as to where I was last fall and progressing to today. The dips since December 1st have been situational and in proportion with those events in my life at the time.